By Shaandre Finnies
OVER three years ago, the State decided to incarcerate a minor named Fortuna Tenete with her mother in a Wanaheda police cell.
After a quarrel between her mother and another inmate, the child was killed on 21 January 2014, as a form revenge against the mother. This was an international scandal for the country.
It was an independent Namibia, which is supposed to respect the rule of law, that a child was murdered while in police custody with her mother.
It was during Constitution Day celebrations in February 2015, where I shared a platform, as Deputy Speaker of the Children’s Parliament, with the Ombudsman, Advocate John Walters, and the then Speaker of the National Assembly, Honourable Theo Ben Gurirab.
At this event, I challenged Advocate Walters on his reluctance to keep the State more accountable, when incidents like this occur. I reminded him of his constitutional duty to protect the rights of ordinary citizens, whose rights have been abused by the State or any of its machinery.
Advocate Walters assured me that there would never be such a case in an independent Namibia again. In addition to that, Gurirab agreed that the executives must do more to prevent such incidents from taking place.
Here we are, three years later, and again in an independent Namibia, a mother who has twins who are nine months old, was arrested because she stole a carton of juice valued for less than N$6.
We could argue about whether or not what she did was wrong, but that’s not the purpose of this article.
The problem I had when I read the report on 4 August was that the nine-month-old twins were held in a “special room”.
The State is playing with Namibians. We know there is no such thing as a “special room” in every police station across the country.
Police barely have enough resources to fight crime. Moreover, we can deduce that no tangible action has been taken after the Fortuna incident three years ago.
The police were never trained on how to work with babies.
They cannot keep babies in an office and take care of them; that is not in their job description.
However, due to a lack of a clear mandate among government ministries, as well as a lack of coordination between them, we continue to see the State deliberately abusing the rights of minors, who find themselves in contact with the criminal justice system.
What was supposed to happen was that there should have been a set of professionals at children’s homes, which would be managed by government in the regions, that could take in children, whose parents are temporarily incarcerated and have no family to assist.
This exposes the weakness and reluctance of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, in executing its mandate effectively. There are no foster homes throughout Namibia.
However, there are orphans and child-headed households in every single region of Namibia.
The plight of the Namibian child is dreadful.
United Nations agencies in Namibia, such as UNICEF, have repeatedly highlighted this.
Progress has been made, but what is the benchmark? The Children’s Advocate and the Office of the Ombudsman must do more to ensure that the State is held responsible.
Their offices are the cornerstones in Namibia that create an avenue of accountability, in terms of the State, and we demand that they are used to enhance the progression of the Namibian child.
The police must act lucidly in all cases that mirror that of the mother and her twins.
Of what use is the law of the land, if it cannot protect the most vulnerable of our society?
We demand that our Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare do more. We demand that the current administration and its key policy documents, such as the Harambee Prosperity Plan, take into account the welfare of the Namibian child.
We cannot afford to live in an independent Namibia that cannot protect its children, especially when it has all the legal and legislative mechanisms in place to ensure their safety, yet regrettably fails to implement these policies effectively.
*Shaandre Finnies is a Bachelor of Political Science and Public Administration student at Ankara University in Ankara, Turkey. He is also the former Deputy Speaker of the Youth Parliament of Namibia. He also served as the Leader of the Majority Bench in the CPA Africa Youth Parliament and was a UNICEF Champion Against GBV. He is also former Namibian Pan-African Youth Leader representative
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015